The bigger problem with Max Verstappen’s comments


Image courtesy of Red Bull content pool.

Over the Portuguese Grand Prix weekend, Max Verstappen was on the receiving end of some criticism after labelling Lance Stroll a “retard” and a “mongol” in which the two came together at the very fast first corner in practice. He was dismissive when pressed about it, and has since had a letter penned to him by the Mongol Identity Organisation requesting he apologise for his actions.

Now we have heard drivers say things in the heat of the moment. Infact Lando Norris during the race also had a run-in with Stroll at turn one in which he called him a few regrettable names in the wake of their clash, but apologised for saying them after the race. Though in Lando’s case, the words he referred to Stroll as may have been rude but not belittling.

We’ve all called someone a dickhead or a particular word beginning with C when frustrated with their actions, however Verstappen’s comments and his attitude afterwards cause some concern.

Firstly, I believe I’m not well versed enough to talk about his “mongol” comment, so I’m not talking about it not because I don’t think it’s important but I believe it wouldn’t be a good idea to talk about it when not completely able to understand the complexities. It’s better to not talk about something when you’re ignorant about it, than to try to talk about it and just ending up looking like so arrogant as to not know what you are talking about and trying to anyway.

I will however talk a lot about ableism and my own personal experiences being on the receiving end of comments like “retard”.

Full disclosure, I am on the autistic spectrum. Going through all my years in school, I always required extra support which was somewhat demoralising anyway but as a result of needing that extra support, I was always a target to mean spirited students. Of course, my experience isn’t exclusive to me and everyone regardless of the hands they’ve been dealt in life will have dealt with bullying in one form or another.

But in my personal experience, being part of a unit for kids with ‘special needs’ left me an open target to comments such as spacker and retard. These insults are derived from a place of believing someone is not of high intellect, and being at school when you’re the only one who needs support in class is already very demoralising.

So to then see people mock you by slapping their wrist with their tongue out when you are trying your best to fit in, it doesn’t matter what you did as to them, all you are is just some retard. Because of needing extra support, you are seen as lesser than them and will never be equal.

This is why when people use the word retard to describe someone doing an idiotic action, it further pushes this notion that the blatant accidental wrongdoings are associated as being the actions of someone who is mentally impaired. Now I could have chalked it up to a heat of the moment thing which we again have all been guilty of, but Verstappen’s dismissive attitude about it was very disappointing.

Now I’m not about censorship, and over the years I have appreciated Verstappen’s character and not being restrained by the overly monitored and polished media-friendly world. But I do draw the line when it comes to words that can fall back on others, because it’s not like a driver will say “piece of s***” and a toilet opens up somewhere in the world and some feces are going to pop out to say “I take issue with this!”.

The bigger issue comes about when you see people on social media who treat it like a non-issue and believe the “SNOWFLAKES ARE AT IT AGAIN!”. This is something that I really do take issue with, basic empathy is treated like an attempt to take away free speech and infringe on rights. It is seemingly born out of this need to be as far from “politically correct” as possible, but most of the time when it concerns you, people can change their tune. Even when confronted with the truth, some people seem so unwilling to concede that they were insensitive.

A couple of years ago, I would often misuse the word ‘triggered’, in line with the meme in which people get annoyed or angry about something. Someone told me that the word was insensitive because it mocks people who have post traumatic stress disorder. When these people are triggered, it represses awful memories that could really mess them up and they have to live with that.

Now if I was anything like the people who are like “LOOK AT ALL THESE SNOWFLAKES WHO JUST WANT TO GET OFFENDED BY EVERYTHING”, I’d have dismissed this person and sent an obnoxious amount of laughing-crying emojis and called them oversensitive. But instead, I listened and have attempted to educate others on this, and now I’ve adopted the term ‘Rattled’ in place of triggered in the context of someone getting angry.

Though all these people on the internet who don’t want to be educated on this and continue to spout ignorant and insensitive stuff, it’s very discouraging and disappointing for people like Max Verstappen to feed into this negative loop. Max has fans who receive these hateful remarks, and by failing to recognise the influence he has, he’s further alienating the people who live this reality every day and only giving the hate-spouting “i BeLiEvE iN fReEdOm oF sPeEcH” nonsense brigade all the time more fuel to further their toxicity.

If Max Verstappen went a step further, if he had someone crash with him and he said over the radio in response to it “This guy is 100% autistic” then I’d never forgive him. I’d rip my Max Verstappen flag off my wall, which I don’t want to have to do because I do like Max but also because the flag is from my best friend Nadine who is from the Netherlands and I don’t want to have to get rid of something that she bought for me.

We aren’t trying to cancel anyone here, but these people who have this reach on people, they need to recognise that their words can have major influence. We all know the phrase about sticks and stones, about how words can never hurt us, I do disagree with this notion. Words have power, words can tell us when we aren’t valued at a base level, and that you are not important.

There are pitiful attempts to look like you’re playing both sides as to not alienate anyone, but sometimes you need to call a spade what it is, a spade. You may think you’re being all hard with a silent H, by not caring about human rights, mental health, believing this has just been a ‘political’ post, that I’m preaching, telling you what to think, that you don’t care about what others think or what value you have towards others, you are kidding yourself when you think this is a non-issue.

Who could be Haas 2021 drivers?

image courtesy of Haas F1 Team

In the lead up to this weekend’s Portuguese Grand Prix, it was announced that both Haas drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen would not be retained by the American outfit for 2021, which makes it Haas’ biggest shake-up since it first appeared on the F1 grid back in 2016. Grosjean has been with the team from the start, and Magnussen joined him for 2017. Aside from Mercedes with Hamilton and Bottas, Haas have been the only team with a consistent line-up for many years so this news is hugely telling as far as the future for the team.

There have been some indications as to who could end up at Haas, some more likely than others. So let’s run through some possible candidates.

Experienced sideliners

First up we have to immediately mention the likes of Nico Hülkenberg and Sergio Pérez, both drivers are very well known quantities of the F1 paddock that are in danger of missing out.

Hülkenberg lost his Renault seat to Esteban Ocon and failed to secure a full-time drive for 2020, however has performed incredibly in his appearances with Racing Point when both drivers fell ill. One of those being Pérez, who has been let go from the team in favour of Sebastian Vettel when it is rebranded as Aston Martin.

Both drivers are of really high quality and shouldn’t have to beg for drives. But even Pérez who brings a lot of money from his native Mexico is struggling to find a seat at all, and may even end up at Williams alongside Nicholas Latifi and kicking out the also very highly rated George Russell.

But even being a great and proven driver isn’t enough these days, there needs to be more. For example..

Ferrari juniors

At the last Grand Prix, Ferrari academy drivers Mick Schumacher and Callum Ilott (who are both first and second in the FIA Formula 2 championship) were due to make FP1 appearances. Schumacher was due to drive with Alfa Romeo and Ilott was with Haas, however the foggy October sky around northern Germany put pay to that plan and instead they’ll be making their FP1 debut at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Despite being considered a Ferrari ‘B-Team’, Haas have never done what Alfa Romeo have done and run one of Ferrari’s academy drivers in one of their seats. They’ve had the likes of current Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc and Alfa Romeo driver Antonio Giovinazzi do FP1 runs for them, but with the plethora of young talent in Ferrari’s camp, this could very well change for next year.

Not only do you have Schumacher and Ilott, but also last year’s FIA F3 champion Robert Shwartzman who comes with strong backing, however he seems less likely and a second season in F2 wouldn’t do any harm.

With the financial strains put on many teams due to the pandemic, it would make sense for the team to take on a Ferrari junior in exchange for getting their Ferrari power units cheaper. However speaking of financial incentive, that leads me on to the name that is floating around like a stubborn rubber dinghy.

Another kid with a rich dad

No list of possible drivers for smaller F1 teams would be complete without at least one rich kid who has more money than talent. The one in question here is Nikita Mazepin, son of $7.1 billion net-worth Dmitry Mazepin, who won’t stop trying to buy his son an F1 team. His name has been mentioned in conversations for buying out the likes of Force India, Renault, Williams and now Haas.

Mazepin has had a pretty underwhelming career, although he is fighting for victories in his second season of F2 and finished runner-up to the late Anthoine Hubert in the 2018 GP3 season. He was also runner-up in the FIA World Karting Championship in 2014 to current McLaren F1 driver Lando Norris, so I must give him credit where it’s due.

However like current Williams driver Nicholas Latifi, it’s obvious that his father’s money would be more of a reason than his ability as to why Haas would hire him. In this day and age, it’s a necessary evil if it means Haas can keep afloat and there are certainly many drivers who have much less ability they could have picked.

With that being said though, Mazepin is up there with the likes of Dan Ticktum and Santino Ferrucci in terms of polarising and distasteful character. He once punched Callum Ilott and only got a one race ban for it after claiming the Brit held him up in practice at the Hungaroring for an F3 race. He’s also come under fire for threatening to out a current F1 driver as gay, which when you consider the possible implications due to F1’s reliance on money from very homophobic countries, just makes me despise this Russian.

One thing is for sure though should this happen, the Drive To Survive episodes that we will inevitably see with a bad tempered team boss and spoilt son of a Russian oligarch, they’ll be entertaining to watch.

So who could it be?

Immediately, Mazepin seems all but certain, as unfortunate as it is. The extra injection of cash could be imperative for Haas as this could very well serve as a rebuilding phase for the team. Puzzlingly though, the extra money from Sergio Pérez’s backers may not be accepted, which considering a combination of an inexperienced driver like Mazepin with a seasoned veteran and both bringing in money sounds very ideal.

At the moment, it’s all rather up in the air. Haas may end up going with a Ferrari junior on one side of the garage and Mazepin on the other, which could end up backfiring since both drivers are hugely inexperienced and we remember how Williams struggled in 2018 with the money coming from both Lance Stroll’s and Sergey Sirotkin’s backers but both being very inexperienced.

If I was a betting man, that’s who I’d go for right now, Mazepin and a Ferrari academy driver.

But let’s take a moment to acknowledge their current drivers. Romain Grosjean is an anomaly, having had ounces of pace but lacked that refinement to keep him from keeping it on the straight and narrow but over time instead of ironing out those rough edges, he’s lost that spark and arguably shouldn’t have been picked over Nico Hülkenberg for 2020.

As for Kevin Magnussen, from scoring a podium on his debut to becoming the F1 bad boy and driving way too aggressively on occasion, and like Grosjean did show plenty of promise. However that whittled out and now I would be very surprised if either of them managed to find a drive in F1 for next season.

What’s next for them? Well Grosjean has expressed interest in spearheading Peugeot’s Le Mans Hypercar program as well as flirting with the idea of both Formula E and DTM, whilst Magnussen could be linked with a move to IndyCar although I would hope if he does, his defense style is quickly dealt with on ovals..

The F3 conundrum and the fall of Formula Regional

Formula Three racing has existed in many guises throughout the years. Whether international or domestic, it is a proven means of finding F1 worthy talent. The championship we think of as Formula Three now started out in 2010 as GP3 and runs as a support series to F1, however it ran in opposition with the FIA F3 European Championship that mainly ran in support of DTM up until 2018 when they ‘merged’. What that really meant was the FIA jumped ship to GP3 and there were efforts to have their own standalone series called Formula European Masters but it failed to get off the ground.

I may be getting ahead of myself here, but there is a point, I promise. The F3 title in motorsport is a bit of a confusing cesspool of championships, and to explain it clearly I am attaching a video made by a guy who is one of the moderators on the r/F1FeederSeries sub-Reddit named Jacob Bosley.

As you can see, there’s plenty of pies you have to put your fingers in when trying to discuss Formula Three as a whole. However the major confusing part was only further muddled by the inception of the Formula Regional European Championship which began in 2019. A part-Italian part-European series ran by the Automobil Club D’Italia of which its first champion Frederik Vesti has since graduated to FIA Formula 3 and finished fourth.

The series was created out of necessity since it was quite rightfully believed that expecting a driver fresh out of a national championship with a 160 horsepower F4 car and putting them into a nearly 400 horsepower F3 car on F1 tracks would not be a good idea. The FIA motorsport single-seater commission designated a five pillar system dubbed the ‘Global Pathway’ that starts out in F4 at a national level; following that is a ‘Regional F3’ championship that are based in Europe, Asia and the Americas. Then comes FIA F3 and FIA F2 before getting to Formula One.

So Formula Regional Europe is part of that second step in the system, however it is a flawed one.

When the concept first began to be discussed for licensing, the bid was between the ACI and also Renault Sport, who were looking to transition their Formula Renault EuroCup series into a full blown F3 championship. However when the single-seater commission favoured the ACI bid, Renault Sport decided to adopt the same Tatuus chassis that the Formula Regional series use.

Formula Renault has proven over the last two years to be a way more attractive option to budding F1 drivers due to visiting more F1-relevant circuits such as Silverstone, Spa and Monaco. By contrast, Formula Regional was split between Italian circuits (don’t get me wrong though, Italy has some of the best circuits in the world, such as Monza, Imola, Mugello, Misano and Vallelunga) but did branch out to a couple of circuits on the F1 calendar like Paul Ricard, Red Bull Ring, Hungaroring and Barcelona.

In an effort to bolster up the grid numbers and compel more drivers to compete, the FIA declared that 25 Super License points would be handed to the eventual champion . F1 hopefuls need 40 to be able to compete so getting a huge boost of 25 would be surely very enticing for these young drivers. In order to further encouurage drivers into Formula Regional from Formula Renault, the FIA capped the maximum Super License points for the champion of Formula Renault to 18, but it didn’t work.

Over the first two seasons, grid numbers for Formula Regional Europe have been struggling to fit the capacity that the FIA requires it would need to meet the full Super License points payout. In the meantime, Formula Renault has only gone from strength to strength, and the FIA seemed to not want to admit it didn’t have its priorities in order when they picked ACI’s bid.

Of course there are probably a lot of factors involved in that decision; I can’t claim to know exactly what was going through their heads but from my perspective, they were definitely attempting to plug a non-existent hole in the market. It seems now however, that the FIA and Single-Seater Commission have seen sense as it has been reported that the higher-ups are meeting with the organisers of both championships in order to discuss a merging of the two series.

This is something that shouldn’t have needed to happen – the Formula Renault EuroCup already had a solid foundation to fill this slot and it did it so much better than Formula Regional, so I’m glad it’s happening. I know the single-seater ladder will be much better off because of it, with hopeful Europe-based drivers already having a lot of choice at this level with the likes of EuroFormula Open, BRDC British F3 and for the women hoping to climb up the junior formulae ladder, there’s the W Series.

This Formula Regional Europe concept didn’t need to happen but it did and has just unnecessarily overcomplicated the oversaturated market that is European F3 championships. I for one will be happy to see the back of it, even if a few of my favourite drivers have competed in it.

FDA’s Enzo Fittipaldi raced in Formula Regional Europe in 2019, finishing as runner-up in the championship – Courtesy of Ferrari Media

Whilst I’m here, can we please drop the Formula Regional tag? It is such a dreadful name. I know the championships are called that in order to distinguish them from the Grand Prix-supporting FIA Formula 3. It could just be a case of actually calling the entry level formulae Formula 5 and then allowing this level to be called Formula 4, but we are too far forward with the existence of this category to start calling it that.

We can’t call it Formula 3.5 either because of the series Renault Sport managed between 2005 and 2015 which had the 3.5 moniker to distinguish the cubic capacity of the engine, but was more an alternative to GP2 (now FIA Formula 2). The series ran an extra two years without Renault Sport’s support before folding at the end of 2017, then dubbed Formula V8 3.5.

I’m obviously not paid to name these championships but Formula Regional does sound like a name that was conjured up at quarter to pub. In any case, I hope they see sense and call it by its apt name: the F3 European Championship. It would be much like the F3 Asian Championship, and rename the ‘Formula Regional’ championships in the Americas and Japan to F3 Americas Championship and F3 Japanese Championship.

This move to finally get rid of unnecessary bumps in the road to F1 can only be a good thing. If a deal is reached, expect an announcement alongside the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix on the weekend of November 1st when Formula Renault EuroCup and the ACI’s Italian F4 are expected to run in support of the F1 race.

A case for: Sim Racing Esports World Championship

Image courtesy of Virtual Competition Organisation

During the beginning portion of this year, we have been treated to some incredible racing in the virtual world. It provided an unprecedented opportunity to showcase the high level of ability from a lot of drivers who do compete in sim racing, as well as the high quality of racing you can witness at the fraction of the cost of the real thing.

We had countless examples of high profile races ranging from sanctioned events by existing series including the likes of Formula 1, MotoGP, Formula E and IndyCar, to completely new originals such as the very popular All-Star Series by The Race.

However Esports racing events are not an entirely new creation, as we have had plenty of championships that existed before this sim racing boom. Such examples include F1 Esports, the FIA-certified Gran Turismo Championships, and iRacing host many sanctioned sim racing series such as the Porsche Esports SuperCup and the eNASCAR iRacing Series. Then we also have the likes of Formula Sim Racing, the Grand Prix Virtual World Championship, league racing championships such as Apex Online Racing and Online Racing League, you get the idea.

So it’s not as if virtual racing fans are starved of action, if anything we are spoilt for choice! But with the quantity of races and championships that there is on offer, there’s a danger perhaps of a lack of prestige with any one particular championship. Do bear with me on this.

When I started to become interested in video game racing, I like many of you were blown away by the accessibility and thus seeing the amount of drivers who were taking to it in order to make advances in their racing career. Subsequently a lot of teams have popped up to compete and signed a lot of drivers to compete in various championships for them, and it just solidified the brilliance of the Esports racing.

So what is it that really sets apart virtual racing from real racing?

It of course goes without saying that real racing has the physical element which virtual racing could never really have. However because in the virtual world, cars and tracks can be picked from the touch of button, the advantage of that is not having to pay huge amounts of money to ship cars onto a cargo plane to a new track. Therefore whilst the physical factor isn’t a huge thing in Esports, there can be a mental factor.

In the week leading up to last weekend’s 24 hours of Le Mans, the Le Mans Esports Series had their Super Final which was stretched across a few days. In that, teams and drivers race multiple different eras of Le Mans-style cars on a variety of circuits, which is brilliant of course but I think it was their first season last year which really made me realise what was so brilliant about the format.

Of course this year, everything is being done remotely and thus there are some limitations. But in 2019 when the Le Mans Esports Series had its first Super Final and all the drivers were actually present at the Le Mans circuit for the event, they had about nine races varying from two to three hours long, in a variety of cars on a multitude of circuits, and it all took place within a 24 hour period.

They could just as well have had one race on the Circuit de la Sarthe and driven for 24 hours like the real thing but they didn’t. They took advantage of the fact that they could go to all these circuits and compete in all these vastly different cars, and really test the mental strength of these drivers, showing who can quickly adapt and prove their versatility in a short space of time.

What I’m saying is, whilst you could have a sim racing championship that does one circuit at a time with one type of car throughout the season and it would be perfectly legitimate, there are advantages presented by being able to quickly move to another type of car and track combination.  That’s why I want to present an example that demonstrated this concept brilliantly.

On the weekend of July 26th, I watched the Cup of Nations, an event that took place on iRacing and hosted by the Virtual Competition Organisation in collaboration with RaceSpotTV and Williams Esports. You can guess by the name that it was a competition held between nations, and you’d be correct in assuming that.

It was won in the end by Team Germany who had the driver with the highest iRacing driver rating in the world Maximilian Benecke, as one of their participants. However as appealing the concept of pitting nations against each other is (demonstrated by the likes of the FIA Motorsport Games and A1GP), it wasn’t that which caught my attention.

No, it was the fact that the car and track combinations were so heavily varied. You had the likes of Aussie Supercars, GT cars, Rallycross cars, single seaters and the many different types of race tracks such as ovals, dirt tracks and road courses. The people taking part only knew of the car and track combinations very little time in advance, so it eliminated the element of people getting more practice or even enough of it with a particular car and track combo.

Every driver that took part had to prove their worth in so many heavily contrasting environments. When I said earlier that the virtual racing world is currently lacking that one prestigious championship in which all the major aspiring and established sim racing drivers and the many Esports teams would want to compete in and win, I think this would be it.

I firmly believe that the VCO have showcased a diamond in a huge box already full of very valuable jewels. With some other elements borrowed from many other high profile Esports championships and if refined to iron out some rough edges, this concept would be – and I don’t mince my words here – the quintessential sim racing championship.

Picture if you will, the many big names from the real and virtual world both in regards to drivers and teams, looking to win the biggest prize in Esports racing, in the most prestigious championship for sim racers all over the world.

Open to anyone all over the world, teams entering with pre-selected drivers in a Pro driver category or players who qualify through iRacing and enter into an Am category. Either competing remotely in eight events across the year to match up to a total at the end, or entering into regional championships so no one region is left having to drive at 3am all the time. I would leave that up to the experts to decide which format works best.

Either way, it would end at the SimRacing Expo which takes place at the Nürburgring every year to crown the champions.

As far as a name goes, I’m divided between a few. There are the likes of, Sim Racing World Championship, Virtual Racing World Championship, eRacing/E-Racing World Championship.

In any case, I firmly believe that this championship would be incredible. It would not be a long shot to say that whoever would win this would be the world’s best sim racing driver or team, and we the viewers would also be major winners as we can see the peak of ability in all of sim racing.

Tuscan GP review – Mayhem at Mugello

image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Due su due as the Italians would say. If you thought the red flagged madness of Monza from last week was extreme enough, F1’s first visit to Tuscany at the Mugello circuit was that turned up to eleven!

It was Lewis Hamilton though who took victory ahead of Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas, which on the surface sounds very typical but it was anything but that. The race began with the long run down to turn one, and Max Verstappen – who had some drama pre-race with the mechanics trying to check something, he had a good initial launch but his car seemed to almost forget how to use its engine for a moment. Tumbling down the order and then got caught up in a collision.

Verstappen seemed to get rear ended by Räikkönen heading into turn two, who was in a bad position next to Pierre Gasly and Romain Grosjean trying to claim the same piece of tarmac. Just up the road, Carlos Sainz got tapped by Lance Stroll which sent him spinning, and Sebastian Vettel couldn’t avoid him in the one-off burgundy liveried Ferrari and limped back to the pits with a broken front wing.

Bottas had jumped Hamilton at the start and they were running ahead of Charles Leclerc and Alex Albon. But a safety car was called as both Gasly and Verstappen were out of the race, and coming to the restart, Bottas left it as late as he was legally allowed to before he bolted, trying to give his rivals behind him as little a slipstream as possible. However, chaos ensued.

Sainz, Magnussen, Giovinazzi and Latifi were caught up in melee coming to the restart as many drivers had tried to get the jump on the restart. The race was stopped and the drivers gathered in the pits, and now standard procedure is a standing restart after seeing it for the first time only last week.

Second time around, Hamilton swung round the outside Bottas at turn one and Leclerc retained third place, before being passed by Stroll and Ricciardo. The Ferrari driver elected to pit early for hard compound tyres as he was just bleeding time on the set he was on. Ricciardo then came in to attempt an undercut on Stroll, a strategy that seemed to be working due to high speed nature of Mugello and it was successful as when the Racing Point driver boxed, Ricciardo was ahead.

The other Racing Point driver Sergio Pérez was passed by Lando Norris before he then successfully undercut the McLaren driver. Meanwhile, the sole remaining Red Bull in the race of Alex Albon had elected to go longer than the rest of the field.

At the front, the two Mercs were on medium compound tyres and Bottas was hoping to do the opposite of what Hamilton was doing. However Bottas came in before Hamilton due to the condition of his tyres and put on hard compound, which gave Hamilton a comfortable buffer to then come in on the next lap and do the same, and retained his gap in front.

Bottas was hoping for a safety car, and well he got one. Racing Point’s Lance Stroll went off at the very high speed uphill right hander Arrabbiata after suffering what was suspected to be a puncture. Bottas dove for the pits and it was thought he had gotten a huge advantage as the safety car was called just as Hamilton drove past, but it didn’t come out in time to serve as a help for Bottas, as Hamilton managed to make it round again and pitted.

The race was then red-flagged for a second time, and with only twelve cars left in the race. Bottas was hoping to keep the trend of second place getting the better getaways but this time, it wasn’t to be as both Hamilton and Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo rocketed off the line.

Meanwhile at the back, heartache for the newly taken-over Williams team as George Russell had lined up ninth on the restart but had been passed by everyone. He soon got back past Grosjean but even with a 5-second penalty looming over Räikkönen, it looked increasingly unlikely that he would get back into the points.

But for his best mate Alex Albon, things were about to get rosier. He put a beautiful move around the outside of turn three on Pérez and after previously being denied two podiums by coming together with Lewis Hamilton in both Brazil last year and Austria this year, the Anglo-Thai driver put a move on for third and made it stick past Ricciardo. Cyril Abiteboul having made a bet with his driver that if he scores a podium before he leaves the team, he will get a tattoo of the smiley Australian’s choice.

However it wasn’t meant to be as finally, in a time where everyone was expecting a switcheroo between him and last week’s Italian GP winner Pierre Gasly, he finally got to stand on the podium with Bottas and Hamilton.

Ricciardo came home fourth ahead of Pérez, Norris, Kvyat, Leclerc, Räikkönen (who finished ahead of Leclerc but dropped back from the penalty he received for crossing the pitlane entry line too late) and Vettel rounded out the points finishers.

Carnage ensued in the hills of Tuscany, and also whilst not a result that Ferrari would have wanted, it is still very fitting that they have their 1,000th Grand Prix be at a circuit they owned since 1988. A proper old school circuit with plenty of elevation change and gravel traps which have punished a few drivers this weekend across all the races.

F1 goes on a week long break, can we all survive that? The circus reconvenes at Sochi Autodrom on September 27th and following on from that is a run of races which include circuits such as Nürburgring, Portimão, Imola, Istanbul, two races at Bahrain on different layouts before the season concludes at Abu Dhabi on December 13th.

Sebastian Vettel: Possible Redemption?

So the worst kept secret in F1 is out. Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel will be moving to Racing Point for next season when it is rebranded as Aston Martin. It all was the result of Vettel’s departure from Ferrari who he has raced for since 2015, a partnership that he had hoped would have resulted in a fifth championship – but it wasn’t meant to be.

Vettel won four straight championships with Red Bull who housed him throughout his junior career, however nowadays you would be forgiven for doubting that this was the same driver. The Vettel of today has been so dejected, dare I say humbled by his lack of success with the Scuderia, and there’s a narrative these days that it’s all because of Ferrari. I however disagree with this notion, it’s not all one party’s fault the relationship has soured.

Sebastian Vettel celebrates his fourth and final championship with the Red Bull Team – courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Before I proceed, I feel the need to put forward my biases and perspective so everyone knows. I wasn’t a fan of Vettel back in his Red Bull domination days, and to an extent I’m still not a fan but even now, I do have some sympathy for him.

When he joined Ferrari, it was the beginning of the Mercedes dominance in the turbo hybrid era so Vettel had a mountain to climb. He had just come off the back of a winless final season with Red Bull in which he was shown up rather considerably by new Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo, who took three wins on his way to third in the championship.

He took the seat of departing Fernando Alonso, who had hoped to be Ferrari’s next champion and came very close but lost out to Vettel in 2010 and 2012, and lined up alongside Ferrari’s last champion Kimi Räikkönen. Vettel really surprised in his first season with the Scuderia, as he took three victories at Malaysia, Hungary and Singapore on his way to third in the championship.

Vettel enjoyed a positive first season with Ferrari – Courtesy of Ferrari Media

However unlike his teammate the previous season Daniel Ricciardo, Vettel took those victories on pure pace as opposed to benefiting from some misfortunes that befell both Mercedes cars. In fact from 2014-2016, it was Vettel’s three wins that were the only ones that were won not from misfortunes for Mercedes. Even with Merc’s dominance, Vettel came very close to denying Nico Rosberg runner-up in the championship that year.

2016 was a bit of a nothing year for Vettel, but with the regulation change coming into 2017 there was renewed hope for Vettel and Ferrari that they could take the battle to Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes. At first it was very much hopeful, as Vettel and Hamilton traded places in the first two races and then the Ferrari driver began opening up a lead.

Despite a promising 2017 season, Vettel fell short of his fifth title, losing out to Lewis Hamilton – Courtesy of Ferrari media

Whilst the two drivers were relishing this opportunity to battle it out for the championship, it did all come to a head at Azerbaijan when Hamilton led Vettel under safety car conditions, Vettel didn’t anticipate Hamilton’s movement and ran into the back of him, assumed he brake tested him so he did the thing he believed was a good idea, drove alongside Hamilton and deliberately ran into him.

Then the infamous Singapore start collision caused by Seb moving over on Kimi and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen handed the momentum to Hamilton, and with Mercedes outdeveloping Ferrari, the 2017 title race was swiftly over. A rejuvenated Vettel went into 2018 feeling confident, and he took two wins from the first two races to open up an early lead. But before long, Vettel began making more and more errors.

He threw away a win at Baku when he locked his brake going into turn one on a safety car restart, locked up at the start at the French GP and clipping Bottas, thus ruining both their races. However it was Hockenheim that sealed Vettel’s fate, where he had a commanding lead and when some drizzle arrived and he lost it heading into the stadium section and burying it in the gravel and tyre barrier.

From then on, it came thick and fast. Monza lap one when he spun after touching Hamilton, Suzuka when he spun when trying to pass Verstappen heading into spoon, lap one at the US Grand Prix when he tapped Ricciardo and, you guessed it, spun. Couple that with Hamilton driving like a man possessed, Hamilton went from trailing Vettel in terms of championships 4-1 to then being 5-4 in his favour.

Meanwhile on the other side of both garages, their Finnish teammates were highlighting the difference between them.

Whilst Vettel had Räikkönen as his teammate, Hamilton had Valtteri Bottas. Both of them were playing supporting roles, but it was quickly becoming obvious that whilst Hamilton’s driving was warranting the lead driver status, Vettel clearly wasn’t doing enough to have his teammate hang back. This coincided with the meteoric rise of a Ferrari-backed driver from Monaco, called Charles Leclerc.

After winning titles in GP3 and Formula 2, Leclerc spent his rookie F1 campaign with Sauber and got the call-up to Ferrari for 2019. Clearly very highly rated by many, there was expectations that Leclerc could do what Ricciardo did in 2014 and wipe the floor with Seb. In a way, he kind of did.

As Leclerc looked set to take victory in only his second race for the team before a mechanical failure dropped him to third, Vettel had it difficult to hold him back initially and then spun again when passed by Hamilton later in the race. Vettel then got a penalty for skipping across the chicane at Canada and nearly colliding with Hamilton, which ultimately lost him the race and he protested after the race with an act of defiance switching of the first and second place boards.

Vettel’s dangerous re-join at last year’s Canadian Grand Prix earned him a race-costing penalty – Courtesy of Mercedes Media

At Silverstone, he locked up and slammed into the back of Max Verstappen just after he overtook Vettel after spending the majority of the race up until that point having a very close battle with Leclerc. Another spin at Monza was further compounded by Leclerc taking victories at the previous race at Spa, and then in front of the Tifosi, but even with Seb taking victory at Singapore the following round couldn’t shake the narrative that he was losing it.

It wasn’t helped when in Brazil, Vettel swiped at Leclerc putting them both out in an incident very similar to when he did the same at Istanbul back in 2010 to his then Red Bull teammate Mark Webber. In the end, Leclerc won the qualifying battle and despite Vettel being ahead in more races, he still finished behind Leclerc.

Ferrari endured a tumultuous 2019 season with among a tense inter-team rivalry between Vettel and Charles Leclerc

I am not just pointing these out to kick Vettel whilst he’s down, I took no pleasure in watching him make these errors which were becoming an all too common occurrence, prompting the meme ‘SBINALLA’ whenever he would mess up. Of course, before this delayed season began it was announced that Vettel’s Ferrari contract would not be renewed and he’d be replaced in 2021 by Carlos Sainz.

Since then, it’s been a narrative of “Vettel didn’t perform because Ferrari didn’t believe in him”. To that I say, well can you blame them? If a rookie kept making the mistakes Vettel was making, they would have probably been replaced. It’s a two-way system, Vettel made a lot of unforced errors which resulted in Ferrari losing faith, and now they don’t give him the belief that he needs.

Vettel will leave Ferrari having failed to win a championship with the team

Again I don’t take pleasure in saying this, even I’ve begun to feel sorry for the guy. However maybe the move to Aston Martin is just what he needs. A fresh start (which seemed to bode well for him in 2015), plus the current ‘Pink Mercedes’ which will be used again in 2021 could lend well to his driving style. The turbo hybrid cars don’t have as much rear downforce as pre-2014 cars due to the exhaust gases not being channeled under the car.

Vettel’s style could bode even better when the 2022 regulations roll around since they utilise ground effect. However by that point, maybe the likes of Verstappen, Leclerc and all the other young guns will be the benchmark.

I’m not writing him off completely, but Vettel has got a lot to be proud of in his career. Winning for Toro Rosso at Monza, winning four straight championships at Red Bull, and he could do very well with Aston Martin. But ultimately, just because he has done that in the past doesn’t mean his errors during his time at Ferrari can be overlooked.

I hope Vettel gets his mojo back and can bring a win or two for the team that started out as Jordan back in 1991, I hope he can prove to himself and everyone else that they are wrong.

 

Feature Image Courtesy of Ferrari Media

What could the future hold for Ferrari?

This weekend’s Tuscan Grand Prix at Mugello marks Ferrari’s 1000th race in the Formula One World Championship. They are the only team to have been competing since the very first season, and has amassed a religious-esque following from so many people around the world.

Ferrari right now are going through a rough patch in Formula One, and their current chairman John Elkann has gone on record saying that we shouldn’t expect Ferrari to be consistently near the front until the big regulation changes in 2022. This resulted from the supposed engine and oil-burn rule clarification that Ferrari were highly suspected as having breached last year, which now has led to them going from having the best engine to the worst.

Their performances this year have been at comedic levels of horrendous. Charles Leclerc has been dragging that car into getting results that it really should not be capable of.  It has been reminiscent to that of Fernando Alonso during his time at the Scuderia when he was able to somehow challenge for championships. On the other side of the garage is the departing Sebastian Vettel; the four-time champion is having a torrid final season with the Italian team that took his hero Michael Schumacher to five straight championships.

A lot of F1 fans seem to believe that Ferrari are deliberately trying to sabotage Vettel, and whilst even I as someone who didn’t enjoy Vettel’s time at the top with Red Bull can sympathise with him and see how dejected he looks, I think this idea that Ferrari are trying to sabotage him is utter clownery. The fact that so many fans are convinced of this, just makes every error that Ferrari make (which admittedly is a lot of the time) look fairly suspect.

GP ITALIA F1/2020 – GIOVEDI 03/09/2020
credit: @Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

So what does the future hold for the Scuderia? Well Leclerc has a long-term contract so providing there isn’t any exit clause exercised, he should be there until 2024 and for at least the next two seasons he will be partnered up with Carlos Sainz. They are looking to restructure their management personnel and give current team principal Mattia Binotto a more focused role and more people coming in to take on more specific positions.

Ferrari have always been the diva of the F1 paddock. Knowing the pull they have to F1, they exercise their right to withdraw at any moment they don’t look to be getting their way, which has led to various pulling out threats over the years. They even claim a bigger chunk of the FOM prize money at the end of the year, for the privilege of F1 to have them there basically, yet they can’t spend that money to actually make a decent car.

GP BELGIO F1/2020 – VENERDÌ 28/08/2020
credit: @Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nevertheless, since we are on the topic of money, F1 is bringing in a $145,000,000 budget cap for next season. Now I have no doubt that Ferrari will overspend and threaten to leave if they are punished for it, but perhaps the upcoming budget cap could possibly result in Ferrari diversifying their race program. Back in the day, it was typical to see Ferrari in other various forms of competition.

Right now, Ferrari do have teams in sportscar racing competing with their 488 GTE and GT3 cars in various illustrious endurance races and championships. However there are plans very soon for the FIA World Endurance Championship to adopt a set of regulations that will allow for manufacturers to compete with race versions of some of their top line supercars in the top class replacing the dying LMP1 formula. There is a bit of time to further clarify the rules but we’ve seen interest in the form of Toyota, Aston Martin among others.

I’d love to see the likes of McLaren racing the Senna, and as unlikely as it may be, Mercedes with their One hypercar, Porsche with the 918, and maybe Ferrari with the LaFerrari? Although by that point, perhaps the LaFerrari will have been replaced. In any case, seeing some of these F1 teams and drivers going off to do Le Mans in their spare time would be amazing. Of course if we look back to 2015, then-Force India F1 driver Nico Hülkenberg raced at Le Mans with Porsche and took overall victory!

Then there’s even mumblings that suggest Ferrari may join McLaren in putting in a full IndyCar effort. Considering their chairman is American, it would be perfect to race there and also when Enzo Ferrari himself stated he’d love to get a victory at the Indy 500. But of course, they have to get their F1 program back on track before they consider touching anything else.

Since we are talking about Ferrari’s future, let’s look to their other affiliated drivers. First up is current Alfa Romeo F1 driver Antonio Giovinazzi, who became part of Ferrari following his successful season in GP2 in 2016 when he just missed out on the championship to his Prema teammate and new F1 race winner Pierre Gasly.

Giovinazzi was leapfrogged to the 2018 Sauber drive by now-Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc and admittedly, for good reason. He had been out of a race seat for a while, though he did impress when he was called to race for the Swiss outfit in the first two races of 2017 when main driver Pascal Wehrlein injured his back at the Race of Champions. Albeit Antonio did wreck quite heavily a couple of times at the second race in China, but you can put that down to having very little time to prepare.

I felt like he did impress last season for the newly rebranded Alfa Romeo alongside longtime F1 veteran and 2007 champion Kimi Räikkönen, however he’s certainly having to step it up for this year. I feel like he is doing so in a sub-par Alfa, but he has to step it up if he doesn’t want his ‘paid for by Ferrari’ seat at Alfa Romeo to go to one of the many impressive juniors in F2.

Ferrari have five academy drivers in F2. Mick Schumacher, Robert Shwartzman, Callum Ilott, Marcus Armstrong and Giuliano Alesi, and it’s the first three who are immediately impressing. New Zealander Armstrong was FIA F3 runner-up to Shwartzman but unlike the Russian, hasn’t hit the ground running in F2 but like Schumacher, may be even more impressive next year. Alesi on the other hand, the son of Ferrari F1 race winner Jean Alesi who had to sell of his beloved Ferrari F40 to get Giuliano a drive with the new HWA outfit, and probably won’t be in F2 next year judging by his lack of results.

Mick Schumacher, Prema (Courtesy of Ferrari Media)

So Giovinazzi’s direct competition comes in the form of British driver Ilott, SMP Racing-backed Robert Shwartzman and also Mick Schumacher, the son of Ferrari’s most famous driver Michael Schumacher. They are trading places in the top three right now and could all end up in F1 perhaps with the likes of both of Ferrari powered teams Alfa Romeo and Haas.

Looking at FIA F3, Enzo Fittipaldi (grandson of Emerson) has only had a few points finishes but has proven himself capable of great results with being the Italian F4 champion in 2018 and runner-up in Formula Regional Europe last year. Speaking of Formula Regional, there’s the Brazilian Gianluca Petecof going toe-to-toe with Arthur Leclerc, younger brother to Charles.

Leclerc Arthur, F3 Tatuus 318 A.R. #14, Prema Powerteam

In Italian F4, Ferrari acquired the services of first year car racing driver Dino Beganovic from Sweden who has already picked up a pole. You may have seen him competing in the first Virtual Grand Prix with Robert Shwartzman, and also did a little race with Lando Norris in the #ChallengeLando livestream on the F1 game.

That segues on nicely to the final few Ferrari drivers. Last year was their first foray into Esports, and in the F1 Esports pro draft, they had first pickings and selected Italian driver David Tonizza which ended up being a masterstroke as he ended up winning the championship. However their other two drivers didn’t score points and they lost the team’s championship to Red Bull.

So to rectify this, they signed former McLaren Shadow driver Enzo Bonito who, alongside Tonizza, competed in the F1 Esports Pro Exhibition races, the SRO GT E-Sports Series Silver category championship and even the Le Mans 24 Virtual with Charles Leclerc and Antonio Giovinazzi. Then in this year’s pro draft, Ferrari – or officially known in Esports as FDA Hublot – signed Slovakian driver Filip Prešnajder.

Ferrari are not short of talent in the driver department, and they undoubtedly will always be a presence within motorsport for years to come. They have an uphill battle, and hopefully one day we will see Ferrari back where they belong.

 

Feature Image courtesy of Ferrari Media

Formula E champion Da Costa may make Portimao F1 debut

Back in 2014, former Audi WEC driver and three-time Le Mans winner André Lotterer made a one-off F1 appearance with the struggling Caterham team for the Belgian Grand Prix. After not making it very far into the race, Lotterer turned down an offer to race in the Italian Grand Prix and has since made his home in Formula E with Porsche.

That was the last time a driver made a surprise appearance in a one-time race deal. Many others have tried, including rally legend Sébastien Loeb who attempted to acquire a super licence to race for Toro Rosso in the 2009 F1 season finale at Abu Dhabi, but that didn’t happen. But now we have the prospect of another high profile one-off race cameo.

In the midst of the frantic motorsport rescheduling as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,  a country that has benefitted handsomely from this is Portugal. Both F1 and MotoGP haven’t had an event there since 1996 and 2012 respectively, both at the Estoril circuit.

But now their other prominent motor racing venue Algarve will host the two top level championships, with F1 going there on October 25th and MotoGP hosting their season finale there on November 22nd.

In MotoGP, Portugal already has a hero. In the most recent MotoGP race, Miguel Oliveira won in a stunning last lap, last corner move at the Red Bull Ring to win on his Tech 3 KTM. However in F1, Portugal hasn’t had a representative driver since Tiago Monteiro and no realistic prospects in the lower formulae. However with the news of F1 returning to Portugal, there is a very strong likelihood that we could see a home driver at Algarve.

Courtesy of FIA Formula E Media

António Félix da Costa is no stranger to the F1 paddock. Having previously come close to a Toro Rosso seat for 2014 after Daniel Ricciardo’s call-up to Red Bull, he ultimately lost out to reigning GP3 champion Daniil Kvyat.

Da Costa had looked like the more likely candidate. He was expected to win the 2013 Formula Renault 3.5 championship, but finished third to future F1 drivers Kevin Magnussen and Stoffel Vandoorne, and despite Formula Renault 3.5 being closer to F1 performance than GP3, it was Kvyat who got the call-up. Undeterred, Da Costa became a BMW factory driver and has competed in the likes of DTM, the World Endurance Championship and Formula E.

Da Costa won a few races in DTM and even took a second victory at Macau in 2016. But it was Formula E where he made his name, having competed since the series’ inception back in 2014 and won races for Team Aguri, BMW i Andretti and DS Techeetah. It was this season though that Da Costa proved his potential, finally claiming that long awaited first Formula E championship.

Under the management of Monteiro, Da Costa is apparently in high demand after his Formula E title win. He’s been approached by teams from WEC, IndyCar and also F1. Two F1 teams according to Monteiro have approached him about a drive for Da Costa, although it is unknown as to whether that will be for an FP1 appearance or maybe even a race drive in front of his home crowd.

Courtesy of FIA Formula E media

Having had the majority of F1 races behind closed doors this year, the Tuscan Grand Prix at Mugello will mark the return of fans on a reduced scale and Portugal is allowing spectators too. FOM are said to be very keen to see Da Costa compete which will guarantee filling the spectator stands (again on a smaller scale).

Which F1 team could it be? You would think having had previous connections with Red Bull, perhaps Alpha Tauri could be a realistic option. It would be very poetic if he ends up taking the place of Kvyat, the same driver who leapfrogged him to the F1 drive in the first place.

It would be very interesting to see how Da Costa will perform if this comes to fruition. I remember back when he lost the seat believing that it was the wrong decision, and that Da Costa had been robbed. Nevertheless, the Formula E champion will undoubtedly relish this unprecedented opportunity to race in F1 at his home Grand Prix, if it does indeed come to happen.

Why you should watch the V10 R-League.

image courtesy of Red Bull Racing.

We all very much enjoyed the variety of Esports action in the beginning portion of this year whilst real world racing was on hold. We had so much virtual racing to enjoy –  ranging from officially sanctioned events by major motorsport championships such as F1, IndyCar, NASCAR, Aussie Supers, MotoGP and Formula E – to originals like the All-Star Series by The Race and the VCO Cup of Nations.

Then you have championships that existed long before the sim racing boom, such as Formula Sim Racing, the Grand Prix Virtual World Championship, and prominent league racing series such as Apex Online Racing and Online Racing League. Well now, a new championship is coming onto the scene with an interesting format and has attracted some of the biggest teams in the world of both real and virtual racing.

The Global Racing Series V10 R-League is a sim racing championship that takes place on Assetto Corsa with a very intriguing format. You have eight teams and three drivers each, one team takes on another in a series of races, the first of which is a head-to-head. In this event, teams match up their drivers in three short one-on-one races with the first team to win two races getting the first point.

What follows is a relay race where each driver heads out on track one at a time, swapping in the pits with a team mate, the fastest team across all three drivers scores the next point. Finally you have a sprint race, all six drivers take to the track with team scores for the round based on positions, the highest score gets the point.

I believe it may be a case of it being like a tournament format, starting off with eight teams in the first round, four in the second and then two for the final. I may be wrong.

Who are the teams? Well the V10 R-League, with its prize pool of £100,000 to be distributed across the eight teams depending on the result at the end of it, has attracted some very big names. They are as follows.

Teams from F1 such as Red Bull, Racing Point and Williams are competing as are the sim racing divisions of BMW, Ford and even Suzuki in collaboration with Jean Alesi’s Esports Academy. Then the other two are Team RedLine in partnership with Porsche and a new Esports team from the UAE, Yas Heat which is working with Veloce Esports.

Some well known drivers are taking part too. Red Bull have the likes of Graham Carroll and Joni Törmälä who both raced for Red Bull in the 2018 F1 Esports Pro Series. BMW has former Toro Rosso F1 Esports driver Cem Bölükbaşı, as well as Formula E Race At Home Challenge sim drivers grid winner Kevin Siggy and Gran Turismo World Tour regular Coque López.

Racing Point are running their current F1 Esports drivers Lucas Blakeley, Daniele Haddad and their Pro Draft pick Shanaka Clay. They also have former British Touring Car driver Mike Epps, who during the sim racing boom quickly established himself as one of the best professional racing drivers in the Esports sphere as he starred in many big sim racing events.

Williams have a selection of Nikodem Wisniewski and Kuba Brzezinski, the two Polish drivers who were part of the overall winning entry in the Le Mans 24 Virtual. They have also acquired the services of Michael Romanidis, who competed in the Pro Exhibition races for Williams, and former Haas F1 Esports driver Martin Štefanko.

Another Czech former Haas F1 Esports driver Michal Šmidl will race for Porsche24 RedLine as will Atze Kerkhof, sparring partner of Max Verstappen and was teammates with Max and Lando Norris in the Le Mans 24 Virtual. Then we have Jaroslav Honzik with Yas Heat, you may know him better as the sim racing content creator and streamer Jardier.

Now onto the part you lot may have been wondering once you saw the name of the series, V10 R-League. Yes, V10, the cars that will be raced in this will be powered by a V10 so you can hear it bellow in all its glory like it’s 2005 all over again. The cars utilise a 3.0-litre 900 horsepower V10 that will rev to 19,000rpm. And because they only weigh 700 kilograms, they’ll go like stink! The predicted top speed for these cars is 220mph, and when it all goes wrong, there’s no traction control or anti-lock brakes to save the drivers.

These cars will race at top line racing tracks from around the world. These include Vallelunga, Brands Hatch, Spa-Francorchamps, Laguna Seca, Monza, Nürburgring (and that’s including the 13-mile Nordschliefe) and Yas Marina. I have no doubt that these cars with their striking look will make for some great racing on these tracks, even Yas Marina!

So if this sounds like it’s right up your street, look for V10 R-League on social media which will lead you to their website and you can find out when and where to watch this happen. Watch team vs team, head-to-head, wheel-to-wheel, let’s bring the noise!

2020 F1 Esports Series season preview

The 2020 F1 Esports Series is almost upon us, and with it the official confirmation of who will race for all ten of the teams. Here’s your guide to who’ll be competing and what’s new ahead of the fourth F1 Esports season.

While drivers will be competing for individual honours, the teams will all be competing for a bigger share of the now $750,000 prize pool. Each team will consist of three drivers who will all take varying parts in the twelve race season between October and December.

In the annual F1 Esports Pro Draft which took place on August 27th, each of the ten teams must pick at least one driver who had qualified through the game, and the teams went in reverse championship order from the previous season.

Haas: Floris Wijers (NED), Cedric Thomé (FRA) and Simon Weigang (GER)

Haas have finished second-to-last and last in their first two seasons of competing, and will want to change that in 2020. Floris Wijers was their 2019 Pro Draft pick and Cedric Thomé raced last season for Renault which resulted in a victory on the Canadian GP circuit.

Simon Weigang is their Pro Draft pick for this year, he also raced last season for Renault. Wijers impressed in the first Pro Exhibition race earlier this year, and the two former Renault drivers are undoubtedly quick. Haas will want to lift themselves from the tail end of the virtual grid and finally now may be the time they do.

AlphaTauri: Joni Törmälä (FIN), Patrik Holzmann (GER) and Manuel Biancolilla (ITA)

After previously finishing runner-up in the team’s championship to Mercedes in 2018 primarily thanks to the efforts of Frederik Rasmussen, the cool-headed Dane’s move to Red Bull meant that the then-named Toro Rosso team didn’t fair brilliantly. They however have stuck to their guns with Patrik Holzmann and redrafting Manuel Biancolilla, and have also inherited Joni Törmälä from Red Bull.

Törmälä was part of the Red Bull team’s championship winning effort last season so he will be the one to watch in their B-Team now as he will be undoubtedly the one leading the charge for AlphaTauri. Whilst it may be seen as a demotion, they are all in equal cars so he will have every opportunity to prove Red Bull wrong for not having him in their main team.

Mercedes: Brendon Leigh (GBR), Bono Huis (NED) and Bardia Boroumand (IRN)

After dominating in 2018, two-time champion Brendon Leigh failed to win a race and Mercedes struggled after losing Dani Bereznay to Alfa Romeo. This seemed to coincide also with Leigh making the transition to real-life racing in the BRSCC National Formula Ford 1600 championship, where he finished fourth in his first race. However he proved in the Pro Exhibition race on the Chinese GP circuit that he’s not lost any commitment to Esports, and this season he has some very strong teammates.

Former McLaren driver Bono Huis joined Mercedes this year after finishing a respectable 7th in last year’s F1 Esports season. Joining them is the highly-rated Bardia Boroumand who starred in his stint in the Pro Exhibition races for Alfa Romeo, notably when he took pole for the race in support of the Virtual Spanish Grand Prix. Mercedes have a strong bunch of drivers to help them get back to winning ways.

BWT Racing Point: Lucas Blakeley (GBR), Daniele Haddad (ITA) and Shanaka Clay (GBR)

Lucas Blakely (Formula 1 esports)

After being drafted in 2019, Scottish driver Lucas Blakeley’s star power has only risen as he went from doing four races last year where he got a best of second at Suzuka, to being able to hold off the reigning champion David Tonizza in the Monaco Pro Exhibition race for an incredible win. Blakeley and Racing Point scored the most points for driver and team across all those races and he could upset the established order this season.

Alongside Blakeley is the reliable Daniele Haddad (who you’ll recognise as being the voice in Jimmy Broadbent’s ears during the Virtual Grand Prix races) and also Shanaka Clay, who really impressed when he won the Canada Pro Exhibition race in very tricky conditions. Clay being a former karting rival of Lando Norris and George Russell, and being only his second race when he won, will have some spring in his step come the start of the season.

McLaren Shadow: James Baldwin (GBR), Dani Moreno (ESP) and Matthias Cologon (FRA)

With an all-new line-up, McLaren Shadow will be putting their faith in a relatively inexperienced set of drivers. First up is World’s Fastest Gamer James Baldwin, who raced a few times for Alfa Romeo in the Pro Exhibition races. He will be doubling up his efforts in the F1 Esports Series with competing in the British GT for Jenson Button’s team, of which he’s already won a race, taken a few pole positions and is in contention for the championship.

Baldwin’s teammates are relatively unknown quantities. Moreno impressed in some Play-Off qualification races, and Cologon was in the Pro Draft in 2019 though he wasn’t picked, but McLaren see something beyond their inexperience in the F1 Esports Series. So while it may be a gamble, it could very well pay off.

Williams: Alvaro Carreton (ESP), Salih Saltunç (GBR) and Michael Romanidis (GRC)

Having been with Williams since the beginning, Alvaro Carreton has improved massively over the years to the point that he could challenge for the odd win or two so Williams were not wanting to let him go that easily. Michael Romanidis started racing for Williams this year in the Pro Exhibition races and also competed for them in the Le Mans 24 Virtual.

Saltunç joins from Alfa Romeo where was overshadowed by Dani Bereznay and will be looking to remind people why he was the only driver in 2018 other than Bereznay and Rasmussen to win a race over the dominant Brendon Leigh. A very highly rated driver, maybe a move to Williams was exactly what he needs.

Renault Vitality: Nicolas Longuet (FRA), Fabrizio Donoso Delgado (CHL) and Caspar Jansen (NED)

Having lost their star Jarno Opmeer, Renault quickly snapped up the services of former Red Bull driver Nicolas Longuet who only raced one time last season and got a podium finish out of it. He’s also joined by 2017 runner-up Fabrizio Donoso Delgado who sat out 2019 and will be hoping to remind everyone why he was the one who came close to denying Brendon Leigh the inaugural championship.

Renault’s final pick is Caspar Jansen, who has been performing very well in league racing and will undoubtedly benefit from Donoso’s experience to get him performing well in the Esports series too. A varied but balanced line-up at Renault that they think will help them hold onto or even improve on fourth in last year’s team championship standings.

Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen: Dani Bereznay (HUN), Jarno Opmeer (NED) and Dominik Hofmann (GER)

When it was announced in the run-up to the Virtual Azerbaijan Grand Prix that Opmeer had signed for Alfa Romeo, I immediately said that Alfa would be the favourite for the team championship and I stand by that. Opmeer was fourth and Bereznay third in last year’s F1 Esports series and are both utter machines, I was concerned that whoever would be Alfa’s Pro Draft pick may get the short end of the stick.

Nevertheless, the highly-rated Dominik Hofmann is also very rapid so it’s odd to think he’s only been picked up now. It’s going to be interesting to see the dynamic within the team, as both Opmeer and Bereznay are capable of fighting for the championship though Hofmann will also be racing at some point. But like team manager Jamie MacLaurin stated on the Pro Draft broadcast, it’s a good problem to have.

FDA Hublot: David Tonizza (ITA), Enzo Bonito (ITA) and Filip Prešnajder (SVK)

Enzo Bonito and David Tonizza, FDA (Scuderia Ferrari Media)

Now onto Ferrari’s Esports team, having joined the virtual racing party a year later than everyone else and drafting the eventual champion in David Tonizza. The teams championship however eluded them as Tonizza was the only one amongst the three Ferrari drivers to score points.

To fix that, Ferrari have now signed former McLaren driver Enzo Bonito, and together both Tonizza and Bonito have been doing the Pro Exhibition races, competing together in the SRO GT E-Sports Series and even shared a Ferrari GTE car with Charles Leclerc and Antonio Giovinazzi in the Le Mans 24 Virtual.

As for their Pro Draft pick, Slovakian Filip Prešnajder was the one they went for after he impressed them with his speed in the play-off races on his gaming platform.

Red Bull: Frederik Rasmussen (DNK), Marcel Kiefer (GER) and Tino Naukarrinen (FIN)

The ever calm and cool character that is Frederik Rasmussen was third in 2018 and fell short of the championship last year, so it’s probably fair to say that the championship this year would be the most fitting result. He is joined by former Racing Point driver Marcel Kiefer, who won a race during the F1 Esports last year at Silverstone, and also won in the Pro Exhibition race around Interlagos.

Then we have Tino Naukarrinen, who was drafted after departing from Williams. All three drivers are proven quantities within the F1 Esports world and are very much capable of collecting very valuable points for Red Bull in their effort to retain the team’s championship.

What else is new?

After the outcry of the community to up the race length, the upcoming season will have races that are 35% distance of an F1 race (upwards of 25% from previous seasons) and will also have full knockout-style qualifying that will also be broadcast this year.

There will be four events with three races each so twelve races overall. Held on Wednesdays and Thursdays, the first event will take place on October 14-15 with races at the Bahrain, Vietnam and Chinese Grand Prix circuits.

The second batch of races will be on the Zandvoort, Montreal and Red Bull Ring circuits on November 4-5, followed by races at Silverstone, Spa and Monza on November 18-19. Then finally on December 9-10 will be Suzuka, Mexico City and São Paulo which will round off the fourth season.

You will be able to watch the F1 Esports drivers racing on F1’s official YouTube, Twitch and Facebook pages as well as your appropriate TV channels.

(Featured image courtesy of F1 2020 game by Codemasters)